PPE. You have most likely heard, seen, and wore it, but for what reason? The definition, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is “specialized clothing or equipment worn by an employee for protection against infectious materials” (OSHA). PPE is the acronym for ‘personal protective equipment’, being face masks, gloves, gowns/aprons, goggles, and face shields. We know, given the name, that personal protective equipment is meant to protect, but how does it work?
The greatest face mask benefit is the additional barrier between us and the environment. According to the World Health Organization, across 38 studies, the odds of developing an infection with a coronavirus were reduced by 78% when wearing any mask. Face masks are best worn in public areas where social distancing is difficult to maintain. Masks do reduce the number of droplets and aerosols containing detectable amounts of virus, according to a recent Hong Kong study on respiratory virus shedding in exhaled breath and efficacy of face masks.
The Standard Cloth Mask
The simplest form of mask protection is the cloth face mask. The cloth face mask reduces droplet spread and creates greater awareness of social distancing. They can be easily purchased at most convenience stores and can even be made at home. Cloth masks absorb liquid and will, therefore, contain droplets from your exhale. It is important to avoid the spread of these droplets because it is very possible to carry a virus while being asymptomatic.
In fact, according to the World Health Organization, it takes 5-14 days for certain viral symptoms related to COVID-19 to appear. That window of time leaves many susceptible to illness, as the infected person will go about their day to day life unaware of their infectiousness. The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, for example, grocery stores and pharmacies. Especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.
3D Face Masks
3D face masks provide a greater distance between yourself and the the mask. Like the name implies, 3D masks do not press directly against the nose and mouth. They create a small chamber between your face and the mask to allow for easier communication and breathability. 3D masks will act as a barrier between you and the environment, not a filter. Unlike the filtered masks, there is no outside airflow inside the mask. This is beneficial when in close proximity to others, where social distancing must be decreased. 3D mask work well for those who have to wear them for lengthened periods of time, as they remain more comfortable due to less facial pressure. Less pressure directly on the mouth does not mean more airflow. The 3D fit simply allows for less pressure with a maintained barrier all the way around the mask.
Bringing Out The PM 2.5
And then there’s the PM 2.5 mask. Like the cloth mask, the PM 2.5 is made from cloth, but also contains a pocket for a replaceable active carbon filer insert. This mask acts as a filter rather than a barrier and allows airflow in and out of the mask. The active carbon filter aids in reducing airborne hazards known as particulate matter, or PM. Particulate matter is present everywhere due to smoking, cooking, candles, cleaning chemicals, and more. Depending on where you live, there are greater or lesser levels of particulate matter present in the environment. Numerous studies have shown there to be underlying health problems associated with higher levels of PM.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, health effects may include cardiovascular effects such as arrhythmia’s and heart attacks, as well as respiratory effects such as asthma attacks and bronchitis. The most concerning being premature death. The PM 2.5 filter consists of highly tiny particles, particularly 2.5 microns. Human hair is the width of 50-70 microns in comparison. It’s really small. This allows for a higher level of filtration and protection against airborne hazards.
Keeping it clean, related to wearing a mask, it is important to remember proper mask handling before and after usage. Before you wear a mask, make sure it has been washed and handled with clean hands. During use, do not touch your mask, and if you do, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly in order to prevent the spread of droplets. To remove a used mask, simply take it off by the ear straps and wash before the next use. This will prevent the further spread of any germs or substances on the mask.
There are many different variations of masks to choose from, and plenty of options for multiple causes. Whether it be for going to the store or traveling through PM dense locations, wearing a mask can aid in protecting you and others. There are many other way to promote your well being and to support a happy and healthy life. Check out our other blogs on heath and wellness for a better you.
“Guidance for the Selection and Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in Healthcare Settings.” Cdc.gov, CDC, 2020, www.cdc.gov/HAI/pdfs/ppe/PPEslides6-29-04.pdf.
“Best Available Evidence Supports Physical Distancing and Face Masks.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 2020, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/best-available-evidence-supports-physical-distancing-and-wearing-face-masks#Distancing-and-masks-reduce-transmission.
Leung, Nancy H. L., et al. “Respiratory Virus Shedding in Exhaled Breath and Efficacy of Face Masks.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 3 Apr. 2020, www.nature.com/articles/s41591-020-0843-2.
Carissa, Martina, et al. “6 Things You Need to Know About PM2.5.” Cambridge Mask Co, 15 June 2020, cambridgemask.com/blog/6-things-you-need-to-know-about-pm2-5/.
“How Does PM Affect Human Health? | Air Quality Planning Unit | Ground-Level Ozone | New England | US EPA.” EPA, United States Environmental Protection Agency, 10 Oct. 2019, www3.epa.gov/region1/airquality/pm-human-health.html.